The Dutch Defense is one of my pet opening systems and has been for more than 30 years. Browsing thru the database of my games with the Black pieces, I found more than 100 games (and this only includes the published games; there was a period in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when the scores were lost).
How I came to be a ‘Dutch-Champion’
is funny. In the winter of 1974-75 I was asked to help prepare the openings of a Montreal woman champion (Marie Bernard–who represented Canada at the very first Women’s Olympiad in Colombia in 1974), and I had very little time to do this. So I thumbed thru the best opening book that I had at the time (Horowitz’ THEORY AND PRACTICE) and found that you could play some variant of the Dutch against every opening move except 1.e4!)
This seemed to me to cut down significantly the amount of concrete opening work that needed to be done. The only problem is that I knew nothing about the Dutch–I had never played it before!
When I showed the Dutch ideas to Marie, she expressed natural doubts and worries , especially about voluntarily weakening the Kingside. Besides, in 1975 the Dutch did not enjoy a very good reputation, despite great players such as Morphy, Pillsubry, Alekhine, Tartakower, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Larsen and Tal having played it from time to time in key encounters.
So I made a deal with Marie: if she would play the Dutch Defense then I promise to include the Dutch in my own repetoire! I have been playing it ever since, with really hard to believe results: more than 70% with the Black pieces against opponents who often include 2600-plus grandmasters!
Be that as it may, I confess that the Dutch is not for everybody. Often Black’s position is restricted and seems to offer limited chances for active play; the alternative openings like the Benko Gambit, Grunfeld and Kings Indian start right from the beginning to seek complications and are more popular. However, if you have patience, imagination and want to avoid opening preparation, the Dutch serves as a very practical and gritty defence.
My game today against the French FM Christopher Debray featured the Stonewall system of the Dutch Defence. Because of yesterday’s health problems, I spent most of the day in bed and had little time to prepare another line. It seemed natural to me that today I play the Dutch!
In the position above the problem is when to exchange and when not to exchange. There are pro’s and contra’s to each of the Knight exchanges, and only a finely tuned positional sense is of use here. A quick glance at the position reveals that Black’s Bishop is ‘bad’ and that White’s Bishop is more active, and it seems logical to base White’s play on this difference.
However, things are never as simple as they often appear: the White Bishop is blocked out by Black’s pawns(!) and finds it hard to prove itself superior to its Black cousin. Black has the labourous maneouvre …B-d7-e8-g6 (h5) which can create some nasty counterplay against the weakened White King position.
In this position White decided to exchange Knights on e4:
There are a few games in my database with this move. Usually Black recaptures the Knight with his f-pawn with solid results. I had a different idea that came to me shortly before the game when I re-played over some games in similar positions, looking for inspiration…
What should White do? 13.dxe5 seems weak after 13…fxe4! (assymetry). 13.Nd6 achieves little after 13…Ng6, heading over to h4 to annoy the White monarch. And the tricky 13.cxd5 leads to the worse of it after 13…Ng6! (as Leon pointed out to me after the game).
13. fxe5!? dxe4!
Assymetry! This gives Black more chances than the sedate …fxe4. Now Black has a Kingside majority and he threatens to bring in his Bishop to g6 with interesting prospects. Objectively the position is roughly balanced, with White trying for a later d5-push to break in the centre.
However, this is easier said than done since the White e-pawn is often loose. In the game–to make a long story short–Debray rushed his d5-push without sufficient preparation and an error of calculation on the 19th move led to a winning ending for Black.
It has been drawn to my attention that some readers thought that White could have saved the game here by exchanging everything on f8 (instead of taking the ‘poison’ pawn on a7 as in the game). However, this is not so as the King and Pawn ending is easily won for Black:
22.QxR-ch QxQ 23.RxQ-ch KxR 24.BxB PxB 25.Kf2
White hurries to regain the pawn and centralize the King
25…Ke7 26.Ke3 Ke6 27.Kxe4 c5!
The reader can now verify for himself that the ending is lost. Black’s plan is to advance his Kingside pawns , chuck them for the e-pawn, and then win the 3 vs 3 ending on the Queenside. The White King can not get back in time. To make things worse, in the above position White does not have enough tempo-gaining moves to cause any real difficulties in Black executing his plan.
SPRAGGETT ON CHESS